If you know the art of breathing, you'll then have the strength, wisdom, and courage of ten tigers.
Breathing is one of the most important things that we do. Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out. Normal respiration happens at 12 to 20 breaths a minute - that's 17,280 to 28,800 breaths every day! Without oxygen, our bodies can't function properly, and without expelling carbon dioxide, our bodies become poisoned. But the breath can have a much larger impact on us than just respiration at the cellular level. Multiple studies have been done on diaphragmatic breathing (colloquially known as "belly breathing") and the impact it can have on everything from controlling symptoms of COPD and asthma, to reducing stress and anxiety, and even improving muscle activation to reduce the symptoms of low back pain. Just do a quick Google Scholar search for "diaphragmatic breathing" and take a quick scroll through all of the investigations - it's impressive!
We're born with bodies that typically know instinctively how to breathe in the most effective, effortless way. We inhale through the nose, bringing the air deep into the lungs, and then exhale through the mouth. The inhalation through the nose is facilitated by the diaphragm actively stretching to drop inside the abdominal cavity, pulling the lungs open like a bellows with the help of the intercostals and scalenes to facilitate expansion in the ribs as well as the belly. The twists and turns of the sinus cavity increase the wind speed of the inhalation like a canyon, making it possible to draw all of that air down into the depths of the lowest lobes of the lungs. Exhaling through the mouth is passive - the diaphragm relaxes and returns to its resting position, and the air passively escapes the body through the mouth, with resistance reduced by skipping the winding nasal passages through which it entered. It's an energy efficient, mechanically sound method. This natural, relaxed, efficient diaphragmatic breathing naturally occurs while the autonomic nervous system is in parasympathetic mode - the rest and digest branch, where the body is relaxed and unstressed, operating at optimal capacity.
But here's the problem - as teenagers and adults, we're bombarded with the idea of what a healthy belly should look like, and it's most certainly not full of life-sustaining air. It's a defined, firm, sculpted, strong-looking set of visible abdominal muscles, with no padding, and it's definitely not inflated. We have this idea that bellies being swollen is a bad thing, unattractive and undesirable, even if the belly is swollen with air. When we sit, the distance between our ribs and hips decreases, and all of that extra space is compressed into a smaller area - but it's still unattractive and undesirable to not appear firm, toned, and thin, even in this position. So we adapt. We move the breath out of the belly, higher up into the chest, so we can keep our tummies sucked in and "healthy looking."
But what this does, this adjustment of the breath into the upper lobes of the lungs, is removes the diaphragm from the breath equation. No longer does the diaphragm drop and pull the air to the lowest reaches of the lungs; instead, accessory muscles - sternocleidomastoid, pectoralis, serratus, and lattissimus take over the hard work. We inhale through the mouth, which takes more effort and results in shallower breaths only reaching the top third to two-thirds of the lungs. Breathing in this way does naturally happen, but in much less optimal circumstances that can't be sustained without consequence. This is the method of breathing that happens while the autonomic nervous system is in sympathetic mode - the fight, flight, or freeze branch, where the body is shutting down non-essential functions (like digestion) to divert that energy to the limbs for running and increasing production of stress hormones that increase heart rate and blood pressure in order to prepare to do whatever is necessary to survive. This is an important state of existence for humans, but it is a very stressful and inefficient state for an extended amount of time.
Here's the good news! Researchers have found that controlling the breath - intentionally changing from one method of breathing to another - can actually stimulate a shift in the state of the autonomic nervous system. But what does that even mean? It means that you can intentionally switch yourself from being in that sympathetic fight-or-flight state into the parasympathetic rest-and-digest state. The operative word there: intentionally. We deal with so much stress in our daily lives. So many uncertainties and causes for anxiety. When you compound that with being taught from a young age that breathing into the belly to make it swell with air is unattractive, you end up with a population who is constantly stressed, constantly anxious, and constantly encouraging those states by always breathing high into the chest. It's a vicious cycle in which we become stuck in sympathetic mode.
Our breathing workshops are focused on teaching you to return to that diaphragmatic belly breathing. To retrain yourself to be able to breathe like an infant - without extreme bodily effort, with maximum mechanical efficiency, and with intention - in order to encourage your body to find and stay in that parasympathetic autonomic state to help reduce stress, calm anxiety, and function as efficiently and effectively as possible.
All workshops are offered online through Zoom as well as in person, provided that everyone in attendance will be masked.
By appointment - please contact us to arrange your donation-based workshop!
This workshop is a survey of different styles of breath work aimed at reducing stress, calming the central nervous system, and helping calm the mind. Each session will likely be a little bit different, with most of the focus centering on diaphragmatic (belly) breathing. Breath work techniques will vary, to give participants a collection of tools from which to choose in order to build an individualized personal breath work practice.
All sessions default to participant video and sound turned off for privacy (no one including the facilitator will be able to see or hear you), but you can decide to change these settings for each session if you wish.